Monday, July 16, 2012
Mission Chinese Food
With this post I am officially and gleefully jumping on the Mission Chinese bandwagon. The place is AMAZING. One of the best Asian meals - traditional, fusion or otherwise - I have had in a really long time. If you find yourself anywhere near the LES of Manhattan and you enjoy spicy, interesting food, you should haul ass to Mission Chinese. And then be prepared to wait because the place is tiny and well worth all of the buzz. Or you could do what Alex and I did and trek down there from the UWS at 2:30 pm on a freakishly hot Sunday and avoid the wait. But if you are like us and you are running late (which was only partially our fault) you might give yourself heat stroke or an aneurysm over worrying whether or not you are going to make it before they stop serving lunch at 3:00 pm, so you should weigh your options and decide whether you want to risk missing lunch (and the ensuing depression, etc) or whether you want to just bite the bullet and wait...
More (including more more pictures) after the jump!
This is not Sichuanese or even Chinese per se. Case in point - one of the dishes on the menu is the Kung Pao Pastrami (pictured above). It wasn't our favorite of the 5 dishes we tried, but it was among the most interesting. Suffice it to say, it was very tasty. In addition to the pastrami, we ordered the Smashed Cucumbers in Garlic Sauce, the Chilled Buckwheat Noodles (with yuba, grated radish, green chili sauce and pear), the Mapo Tofu and the Mongolian Long Beans (with roasted chili, horseradish and chili oil). I really wanted to try the Thrice Cooked Bacon and the Sizzling Cumin Lamb Breast, but it was just too hot to eat that much meat. If only we had one or two more people with us I would have ordered both dishes, plus the Sichuan Pickled Vegetables. Oh well. Since I am planning on going back many, many times, it shouldn't be a problem to try them in the future. My favorite dish that we ordered was the chilled buckwheat noodles (pictured above). They were cool and refreshing on a 90 plus degree day, but they had some serious kick and interesting flavor to them. And somehow all of the flavors worked together. The menu description left off a few ingredients, including some spicy, pickled green beans, cilantro, sesame seeds and a few very thinly sliced radishes. Alex's favorite dish was the Mongolian Long Beans, which I agree were absolutely delicious. Unfortunately the picture I took of them came out all blurry, so you are just going to have to picture them in your mind. The second they hit the table you could smell the Sichuan peppercorns and the heat of them. They were outstanding. The Mapo Tofu (pictured below) was good and had a very interesting and pleasing sweetness to it, despite all of the heat. I liked the use of larger chunks of pork shoulder, rather than little bits of ground pork. the cucumbers were perfect given the weather. Note to self, stir them together a little more before eating because otherwise the sesame paste coats your palate.
I would say more, but really I think the write up from the Underground Gourmet's 2012 Cheap Eats List in NY Magazine says it all better than I ever could. My favorite lines from the slideshow, which echo my sentiments exactly, is that you eat at Mission Chinese "and are so stunned by the audaciousness, the inventiveness, the lip-smacking, mind-bending tastiness of Danny Bowien’s cooking you don’t even look at the check. If it came down to it, though, you would rob convenience stores to get money to eat here. Not that you need to." The food is amazing, the bill is relatively cheap and the experience is just fun. If you go in there expecting traditional Chinese cuisine you will be left a little confused. But provided that you like good spicy food and are interested in trying new things, you will LOVE Mission Chinese Food. I know we did. Actually, we loved it so much that Alex went out and bought the cookbook and between the cookbook and the internet I have read all about the origins of Mission Street Food in San Francisco and its evolution into the NYC location of Mission Chinese Food. Alex wants me to point out that the book he bought isn't really the Mission Chinese Food cookbook (which Eater claims will be coming in 2014) but the Mission Street Food cookbook. Whatever. It's a book about Mission Chinese Food/Mission Street Food and it contains recipes. Ergo, it is a cookbook. Moving on. The story behind the restaurant and its charitable mission is really quite fascinating. And if you buy the (cook)book through the publisher here a portion of the proceeds for the cookbook go to Slow Food USA. Just think about it.